Spicy Italian Sausage
July 17, 2017 | Updated February 26, 2021
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Spicy Italian sausage has been a part of my life since I can remember being me.
I grew up in New Jersey, in a town called Westfield that supported more than a dozen Italian restaurants, serving a sizable Italian American population. Sausage, peppers, and onions was a staple dinner, spaghetti with sausage, pizza with sausage, stromboli with sausage… you get the point.
Always, there were two kinds: sweet and hot. Sweet looked more or less like any other link, but the spicy Italian sausage was always red — sometimes red from just chile flakes, sometimes because it had a little paprika in it. This made the easy to pick out in a big platter: Red ones spicy, white ones sweet.
I always found myself reaching for the hot ones. Spicy, but not crazy hot, Italian hots are more warming and zippy than blistering. Just enough spice to make things interesting.
Here is my version of that classic link. I do use paprika, or, rather, piment d’espelette, a mildly hot pepper powder not unlike Hungarian hot paprika. It helps to give the sausages a nice color and heats them up without resorting to cayenne, which is far hotter.
Pork is a must here. I use wild pork from feral hogs I hunt, mixed with domesticated pork fatback, which is the fat on the pig’s back. It is the best fat to use for sausages, as it is harder than belly fat or fat from within the shoulder; both are fine if you can’t get fatback.
How do you cook your spicy Italian sausage? You can cook them in a pan, or grill them, or just submerge the sausages in some spaghetti sauce. Me? I prefer my links in traditional sausage, peppers and onions. Here is a recipe for it that I developed with my friend Elise from Simply Recipes.
Incidentally, if you are looking for a sweet Italian link, here is my recipe for sweet Italian sausage.
New to making sausage? You can find my detailed tutorial on how to make sausages at home here.
Hot Italian Sausage
- 3 3/4 pounds pork or wild boar
- 1 1/4 pounds pork fatback
- 34 grams salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 2 tablespoons hot paprika or piment d'espelette
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1/4 cup red wine
- 1/2 cup ice water
- hog casings
- Cut the meat and fat into chunks that will fit into your grinder. Mix this with the salt and sugar and refrigerate overnight, or up to 2 days. You can skip this step, but your sausage will not bind as well.
- Get out about 15 feet of hog casings and soak them in warm water. If you want, flush them with water; this helps the stuffing process and will let you know if you have any leaks.
- Mix the minced garlic, pepper, coriander, hot paprika and oregano with the meat and fat and grind through a medium (6.5 mm) die. Chill the mixture in the freezer until it is about 33 degrees Fahrenheit.
- When the mixture is cold enough, add the fennel seeds, red wine and ice water and mix well with your (very clean) hands for 60 to 90 seconds. Your hands will ache with cold. You'll know the sausage is ready when it coheres in one mass. You'll also start to see whitish streaks form on the side of the container you're mixing in. You can also do this mixing in a stand mixer on low.
- Pack your sausage into a stuffer and thread on a length of casing. Slowly ratchet down the meat to remove all air from the stuffer and the tube the casing is on. Leave about 4 inches of casing off the end of the tube; you'll use this to tie off later.
- Stuff one big coil of sausage rather loosely. If you have more sausage to stuff, keep stuffing large coils until you're done. To form links, take a coil and pinch off two links about 6 inches long -- the first link is the end of the coil, the second one up from the end. Roll this link away from you a couple times. Tie off the end of the coil. Now move down the coil and pinch off another link. Roll this link towards you a few times. Move all the way down the coil until you get to the end. Tie off that last link. Repeat with other coils. (This video shows how I do it.)
- Gently compress each link looking for air pockets. Use a needle or sausage pricker to pop any air pockets. Gently compress the links to fill that gap. This takes finesse not to burst the casing.
- When all you links are ready, hang them to dry. At room temperature, hang an hour or two. Ideally, you'll hang links between 33 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit overnight. Barring that, leave them uncovered in the fridge overnight before eating or freezing.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Is the salt amount of 34 grams correct in the Hot Italian Sausage recipe? I put in less than 28 grams and tasting before curing it was too much
Jeffrey: Yep, it’s correct. That comes out to about 1.5% salt. That’s where most people like a fresh sausage. But salt tolerance is personal, so you could drop it to 1% and still be OK. This sausage is not cured, though, so I am not sure where you are getting that.
Great recipe, flavor is excellent. My personal preference would have been to double the hot paprika, or add in a cayenne pepper powder to boost the heat, maybe two/a few tbsp of normal paprika to boost the red color. I was toying with whether to do a sweet, or a hot Italian and was worried I couldn’t share it with my parents if it was too hot, this one turned out pretty mild so I guess best of all worlds. Thanks for the recipe.
Thanks for sharing your Italian Sausage recipes. I too am from northern NJ. I was born in Newark and my family lived in the first ward ( 7the Avenue). Back then it was known as Newark’s Little Italy.
I ate a lot of Italian sausage growing up! Sunday gravy with sausage, pork neck bones, and meat balls was always a favorite. I recall a distinct taste combination of basil, fennel, anise, and garlic in the sweet sausage. I also recall these flavors in the Italian sausage sandwiches with onions and peppers that I ate on the Seaside park boardwalk and at many Fireman’s Fairs in NJ .
I would like to attempt to duplicate the distinct flavor but am unsure about how much fresh items such as basil and garlic can be added.
I am curious to know if you have ever made a sweet Italian sausage with fresh basil, fresh garlic, fennel seed and anise?
One of my childhood friends ( actually from an Italian family said his dad would use red wine when making their family sausage. But he doesn’t recall any other ingredients!
Thanks for your help!
Basil, Garlic and Anise would be part of the sauce or recipe that the sausage is served with. I’ve never seen a recipe (that I like) that has any of these ingredients actually in the sweet sausage mix. Anise is a big outlying ingredient that I don’t ever recall seeing in a Sweet Italian sausage. Sweet is a very simple mix of salt, sugar, fennel seeds, black pepper, ground nutmeg, dried crushed oregano, adding in finely chopped fresh parsley and white wine when doing the the final mix before stuffing into casings. I am a garlic lover, but I reflect that in my sauce (gravy, whatever you want to call it). I don’t think it belongs in the sausage itself as some people do have a very garlicy sauce. Sweet is also used in other recipes where garlic is added to the recipe itself, so I shy away from adding it to the meat. I apply the same logic to Hot Italian (and meatballs) as well. I have tried this recipe a couple of times for Hot Italian (omitting the garlic), but still found it to have a little too much sugar for a good Hot sausage (1/2-3/4 TBSP of sugar is better for a Hot mix, depending on your liking). The coriander also seemed very out of place for an Italian sausage. It’s good, but does not hit my spot as a great hot italian sausage recipe. I do use coriander in my German and Polish sausages which is spot on.
This morning I made your provincial and brat sausages from all the roosters I harvested this past season…from your duck duck goose book. We haven’t had any yet but they look awesome and I have another 7 pounds or so for more sausages.
Do you think I can use the hot and sweet italian sausage recipes with pheasant? I have plenty of pork back fat.
Thank you for your books! We use them all the time and have really broadened our wild game cooking boundaries!!
Ken: Yes, you can do that. And thank you for the support!